Confirmation of expectations is a good thing. When United Airlines announced its A321XLR order the planes were designated as replacements for the carrier’s aging 757-200 fleet’s international operations. As such, the confirmation this week that the planes would see a Polaris business class bed installed is good news. But also not a huge surprise.
That Patrick Quayle, United’s senior vice president of international network and alliances, described the offering as a “completely new product” does raise some questions about the vendor and what the configuration will be. To date most single-aisle premium flat-bed installs have been the Collins Aerospace (nee B/E Aerospace) Diamond or the Vantage from Thompson Aero.
JetBlue inaugurated the Vantage Solo on its A321LR fleet, bringing direct aisle access to every seat in the cabin. Stelia also recently launched the Opera seat, similarly offering direct-aisle access.
We also know that at least one airline wants a new seat on the 737 MAX 10, set at a 49 degree angle to the plane’s front-back axis.
With the MAX 10 expected to serve United’s transcon premium market when it joins the fleet, it would not be too surprising to see United as an early customer for that seat, and also have it installed on the A321XLRs as they join the fleet.
The back half of United’s A321XLRs
Perhaps more intriguing, however, is how United plans to configure the rest of the aircraft. Quayle also confirmed that the carrier intends to fit a Premium Plus premium economy section on board. If United installs a true 2-2 (or maybe 2-3) setup on board that would be a big win for passengers who want a little extra space and comfort, but not the full bed experience.
Less clear, however, is what that configuration would mean for economy class passengers on a United A321XLR.
Getting to 180 seats on board, as the report implies, is a relatively high count for the aircraft size. SAS put 157 seats on its A321LR. JetBlue, with an absurdly large premium cabin, seats only 138. British Airways fits 154 seats on its ex-BMI planes with the premium seats up front while Gulf Air gets to 169 on board with a very small angled-flat business product.
Keeping 16 Polaris beds and maybe 12 Premium Plus seats on board means 152 economy seats. It would be hard to realize that without squeezing the economy class pitch pretty aggressively. And if Economy Plus remains, which there’s no reason to doubt, the rest of the seats squeeze even more.
Or, perhaps, the 180 seat target is a red herring. The SAS layout includes a larger business class cabin than is likely on United’s configuration. Removing a few rows there and adding in economy class could still get to something in the 160-170 seat range, without crushing knees nor giving up too much in terms of Economy Plus ancillary revenue upsell opportunities.
And given United’s focus on premium seating in the next round of fleet layouts, that seems a more reasonable target.
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180 seat count isn’t directly attributed to United and may just be referenced from generic Airbus Marketing materials. It could happen but would likely involve only 10 Polaris and 10 Prem Plus in a tight 2-3 layout, plus removing the mid-cabin lav. It would be tight for galley space as well, especially if UA is offering hot meals to all 180 pax plus free beer/wine.
Always a delight to read these posts.
Everyone focuses on the front, but that is not where the main action lies for most people. I think 150 is the max that UA will fit as they can get way with 3 staff.
But the real issue is if UA want extra range with fewer people or more sardines with a smaller range.
I hope it is the former
Seth Miller says
The crew limits are a big deal for shorter, typically domestic flights. For international most airlines, including United, over-staff the plane to deliver a more premium offering. Having at least one extra FA on a trip also makes it easier to keep the plane moving if someone gets sick or injured during the downline layover. That can be a significant risk for the airlines.
The 752s fly at 169-176 today. Adding PPlus should shrink that number a little, assuming UA really does deliver a proper premium option. I think 160-165 isn’t completely unreasonable, especially without the second door forward of the wing. That brings back a lot of usable space on board.
The article cites ‘around 180 seats’ for a three-class config and I think that number is from Airbus’ own material, it’s very clear from the Executive Traveller article that this is not a quote from United and not even directly related to United’s A321XLR LOPA, it’s more of a generic observation about the plane type itself.
I think the actual number would land more around the high 160s mark assuming UA does 1-1 flatbeds with decent-sized business and premium economy cabins. I would also expect premium economy to be 2-2, and if there’s sufficient pitch then as you correctly note this will be a very appealing option to budget-minded travellers if the price is right. Hopefully UA probably afford to be a little ‘premium heavy’ on its LOPA.